|Publisher||:||Square Electronic Arts L.L.C.|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
The latest in a flurry of Sony PlayStation role-playing games, Chrono Cross is Square's sequel to the Super Nintendo classic Chrono Trigger. In that game, players traversed time and space to prevent the end of the world, manipulating existence itself and creating time paradoxes. In the sequel, the time-travelling most players will be doing is remembering the original game, which the sequel fails to live up to.
Chrono Cross's hero is young Serge, who mysteriously finds himself in a parallel dimension. In this other world, something happened ten years ago to cause a very different timeline to unravel. Players must slide back and forth between dimensions to solve this riddle, with the fate of humanity at stake. Unlike most Square sequels, Chrono Cross shares the same continuum as Chrono Trigger, with a few familiar faces showing up; exactly how the two games tie in with each other is yet another puzzle.
The battle system is unlike any other. Combatants have stamina points which determine when and to what degree they can act, and how tired they'll be after each action. Physical attacks come in different strengths and accuracies; successful blows earn characters element points, which can be used to cast magic. Magic spells can be cast once each per battle and must be equipped on a grid before battle. The grid determines how many points are necessary to cast the spell, and how effective it will be. Plus, spells come in various colors, with characters being predisposed to certain colors, and opposite colors reacting powerfully. Each character can combine his or her (or its) unique "tech" attacks with other characters'.
Confused yet? These options force the player to make a variety of decisions in each battle. Though some gamers may enjoy such micro-management, most will find it bogs down the game. There's a lot to learn and consider for every single battle. This system makes boss battles more dramatic, but is absolutely grating when employed with regularity. Why not have a "novice" or "dungeon crawl" mode where the choices are quicker and simpler?
The characters Serge meets are much too random. The dialogue could be interesting, if the script editors hadn't been so hung up on dialects. There's a French clown, a German mad scientist, and an Irish burglar. Character names are unimaginative, and sometimes downright painful: enemy soldiers Solt and Peppor, a young girl named Kid, the masked man Guile, the painter Van and his son Gogh.
Players may not even realize when story branches occur. These divisions can be as obvious as a menu choice — "Do you want to do this or this?" – or as innocuous as who you talk to first in a new town. Several people will join your party at the drop of a hat, without their history or intentions being explained or having much relevance. Compare this to Chrono Trigger, where we got to know people like Marle and Robo quite well and what place they held in the game as a matter of course before they joined the party.
The graphics are a bit pixelated, but are colorful and detailed. Cities and dungeons are displayed from fixed angles, much like in the Final Fantasy series. Full-motion videos are gorgeous — what do you expect from Square — but short and without drama.
Meeting another Square standard is the music. The soundtrack features a diverse instrumentation that makes every town, dungeon, and encounter unique.
Chrono Cross is a game that calls for patience and commitment. The presentation is not lacking; it's the execution that's complicated. The battle system is powerful, but takes time to get used to. The story also picks up as the game progresses. Both aspects were clearer and better done in Chrono Trigger, but there's no time travelling back to those simpler days.
This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 14-Aug-00